As Berkshire Mall struggles, Lanesborough officials get funding for alternative use study

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LANESBOROUGH — The town has received a $50,000 state grant toward planning potential future uses for the Berkshire Mall — especially if the rapidly declining shopping complex becomes publicly owned.

Funding from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, coupled with a $20,000 match from the Baker Hill Road District, will pay for the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission staff to do research and develop options to revive the mall as a destination place.

The planning process and generating a subsequent report will take 18 months to complete.

"[The options] could be housing, indoor agriculture, mix use with some housing — some eight to 10 varied scenarios after the research," said Laura Brennan, senior planner for community and economic development for the regional planning commission.

Brennan outlined some of the possibilities before the district's Prudential Committee at its monthly meeting on Wednesday.

"We really want to look at all options ... and make sure whatever the outcome is best for the town," said committee member Linda Pruyne.

The district's lawyer Mark Siegars added, "This is a destination that needs to be healed."

With more than half the mall empty, the Baker Hill group is looking to buy the all-enclosed retail facility to directly impact its future.

"This [site] has to be for everybody, but we want control," committee chair, Bill Prendergast said.

The district would have to buy the mall from Berkshire Mall Realty Holding LLC. The subsidiary of Kohan Retail Investment Group in Great Neck, N.Y. purchased the commercial property for $3.5 million in September 2016. Since the sale, two anchor stores, J.C. Penny and Sears have left or will leave; another major retailer, American Eagle Outfitters, confirmed earlier this month that it is closing its mall outlet.

Mall principal owner Mike Kohan and his company owns 23 malls in 15 states. He specializes in scooping up financially distressed malls and turning them around, although his track record is spotty, according to several previously published reports.

Baker Hill currently owns and maintains US-7/MA-8 Connector Road, often referred to as the "mall road," that links U.S. Highway 7 with state Route 8. The road district's $718,000 budget is funded by property taxes from the mall owner, and Target owns the mall space it occupies.

While the town secured the grant, helping plan the mall's future is a collaborative effort between the municipality and road district, with plenty of public input.

"Baker Hill and the town are joined at the hip," noted Town Manager Paul Sieloff.

"There will be community meetings as we review what other [malls] have done to survive," Siegars said.


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